Spooky film contest brings creativity and fear to St. Albans


Tracey Crocker

Halloween is well known as a time for spooky stories and thrilling tales, but it is also a chance to push the limits of your creativity. While other people are coming up with crazy costumes and disturbing décor, teams of hobbyist filmmakers are creating frightening films to enter into the Northwest Nightmares Film Festival in St. Albans, Vt.

JSC student Tracey Crocker has entered the contest for each of its four years so far. “Four years, four films,” she said. “And lots of work.”

The films are five to fifteen minutes long and are judged in multiple categories, including editing, acting, effects, cinematography, sound design, story and fear factor. The film with the highest overall score wins “Best Picture.”

“I’ve never won the contest,” said Crocker, “but I have won ‘Best Editing,’ ‘Scariest Film’ and physical effects. Last year was ‘Best Effects,’ and the year prior I came in second with ‘Scariest Film’ and ‘Best Editing,’ so that’s pretty good.”

Along with the titles, contestants can win Amazon gift cards and film-related prizes, like cameras and microphones.

The event is held at the Welden Theatre in downtown St. Albans and each team’s entry is shown on the big screen. Crocker said that the festival’s first year saw around a dozen entries, with the next two years dropping to seven and then six.

Although she’s had a larger cast for previous films, Crocker said that her team this year consisted of only herself and her younger brother. “I was writing, filming, editing, directing, producing. I wrote the music and I did all the make-up,” she said. “It was a lot. And I’m also the lead in the film, so it was quite a large challenge that I took on this year.”

She said that she spent two days filming and three or four days editing this year’s project. “For me, it’s normally less than a week,” she said. “I’ve done a full five to fifteen minute film in three days before, but in general I think it would take most people two to three weeks. I just don’t give myself a lot of time.”
In addition to the hard work, shooting a horror film can require some actions that might seem strange to the general public.

“In my first film . . . my father and I had to pretend to hit my brother with a car, and then hide the body and bury him with leaves,” said Crocker. “My neighbors were twin girls who must have been 10 years old at the time. They were having a sleepover right next door with 13 10-year-old girls, all cheering every time we hit him with the car.”

Her third film ventured into the realm of cannibalism and required plenty of fake blood. Kalob Gabree, a fellow JSC student, participated in the filming. “After shooting, we went to Stearns and had dinner, covered in fake blood and ‘wounds’ all over,” he said. “We received plenty of weird and occasionally horrified looks as we went along our daily business.”

Crocker recalled the same experience: “People were taking pictures of us, having no idea what was going on,” she said. “Two people asked if we were okay. It was an adventure, for sure.”

Along with the fake blood, cannibalism can include eating some unsavory meat.

“I had this chicken that I ‘borrowed’ from Stearns,” Crocker said. “I put it in a freezer for two days, realized I didn’t let it thaw for filming, put it in a microwave. Put it in a Ziploc bag and then a grocery bag, carried it around the whole time we were filming. So about six hours. Pull it out, it’s frozen, it smells, but for the love of film, I had nothing else. I put some food coloring in the chicken, held it against a fake arm, took a bite out of it, and fake blood just pours out everywhere. It looked fantastic but was the most disgusting thing, regardless of film, that I have ever done in my life.”

Crocker sees the contest as an inspiration and motivation to keep pursuing her filmmaking passion, a hobby that she has enjoyed for a decade or more.

“Tracey and I have actually been friends since middle school,” said Gabree, “and she has been some sort of a filmmaker this entire time . . . I can’t wait to see what she has come up with this year.”